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Georgia Tech QB has a lot to prove in ACC championship game
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Georgia Tech quarterback Reggie Ball fumbles after being hit by Georgia's Marcus Howard in the fourth quarter in Athens, Ga., Saturday, Nov. 25. The fumble was returned for a touchdown and Georgia won 15-12. - photo by Associated Press
ATLANTA — Reggie Ball has a way of bouncing back from his lowest moments.
    He’ll certainly need those powers of recovery on Saturday.
    The Georgia Tech quarterback is coming off a miserable performance against Georgia, but he doesn’t have long to fret about it. The No. 23 Yellow Jackets (9-3) are facing 16th-ranked Wake Forest in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game, with the winner claiming a spot in the Orange Bowl.
    ‘‘He’ll come back strong,’’ teammate Calvin Johnson predicted. ‘‘We have a tough game coming up. We know Reggie is not going to let it bother him at all.’’
    Clearly, Ball has a lot of forgetting to do.
    Last week, the senior looked like a raw freshman in the 48th start of his career, completing just 6-of-22 passes for 42 yards in a 15-12 loss to Georgia Tech’s most bitter rival. As if that wasn’t bad enough, he was intercepted twice and coughed up a fumble that was returned for Georgia’s first touchdown.
    ‘‘Reggie! Reggie! Reggie!’’ the Georgia crowd chanted derisively.
    But Ball has been through this sort of thing before during an up-and-down career. As a freshman, he was picked off three times in a blowout loss to lowly Duke — the Blue Devils’ first ACC win in four years — but he rebounded the following week with three touchdown passes to beat North Carolina.
    In 2004, Ball nearly lost his starting job when he completed just 20-of-54 with six interceptions in back-to-back losses to North Carolina and Miami. He played much better in the next game, an upset win over Maryland, and coach Chan Gailey dismissed any thought of making a change.
    Ball’s maddening inconsistency stretched all the way to his senior season. In a crucial three-week stretch late in the season, Ball equaled his career high with four touchdown passes in a comeback win over North Carolina State, played terribly (10-of-24, 78 yards, one interception) in an ugly victory against North Carolina, then bounced back with three TD passes as the Yellow Jackets coasted past winless Duke.
    So, maybe it’s time for Ball to come through with a strong showing against the Demon Deacons (10-2) in Jacksonville, Fla.
    Gailey is counting on it.
    ‘‘He’s competitive as all get-out,’’ Gailey said. ‘‘It’s not easy to play quarterback. If it was easy, anybody could do it. You look for guys who have that competitive spirit and can come back. We’ve seen it (with Ball) from the beginning of a game to the end of a game. He’s led us back in the fourth quarter two or three times this year. There’s something there.’’
    Indeed, Ball can transform into an entirely different quarterback from one half to the next. In a critical game against Miami, Ball fumbled on the first play from scrimmage and the Hurricanes returned it for a touchdown. By halftime, he had completed only 3-of-16 throws and was hearing boos from the home crowd.
    But Ball connected on 8-of-11 over the final two quarters, hooking up with Johnson on the tiebreaking touchdown with just over six minutes remaining in a 30-23 victory.
    There was no such rally against the Bulldogs, but Ball handled his dismal stat line with standoffish bravado.
    He shrugged off his 0-4 career record against Georgia and insisted that it didn’t hurt any worse losing to the Bulldogs than some other team, stretching the limits of credibility for a player who grew up in suburban Atlanta.
    ‘‘I don’t care if it’s a team of old ladies playing flag football, I want to win,’’ Ball said immediately after the game. ‘‘I don’t play into this rivalry (stuff).’’
    Since then, Ball hasn’t spoken to the media, letting others shed light on how he’s coping with his last game.
    Just fine, according to a fellow senior and close friend.
    ‘‘He bounced back immediately,’’ defensive tackle Joe Anoai said. ‘‘When we were in the locker room up in Athens, he was already thinking about Jacksonville. He’s one of our top leaders. He’s a senior leader for us and captain. We believe in him and we know that he’s going to get the job done for us.’’